Fair trade?

Being Fair Trade Fortnight (from the 3rd – 18th of May) I thought I’d better discuss an issue that arose in the office this morning.

I buy the tea and coffee for the office usually and as a matter of habit, I buy Dilmah. We have always bought Dilmah in my home… from back in Rotorua with my maman, to the flat in Wellington with my sister. I’d read the little leaflet and decided that it was a company worth supporting, as well as highly approving of the taste of the tea.

This morning my boss made mention of the fact that I buy Dilmah tea and said that someone objected. I am not sure whether they objected specifically to us buying it, or objected to the company overall. In any case, I decided to look into it further and found that the company owner had called Fair Trade a “farce” and claimed that it was a “trendy brand” that only served to increase the amount of money in the pockets of the middle men.

The director of the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand responded, defending fair trade and saying that it had made significant improvements in the lives of the workers and farmers in developing countries. Of which I have no doubt. And while I am not ready to agree with everything that the wealthy owner of Dilmah has to say about fair trade certification, I’m also not ready to write off the Dilmah company.

I find it conflicting to say that Dilmah is unethical purely for not signing up to the fair trade certification when it looks like the founder (while definitely giantly wealthy now!) has worked really frigging hard to make Dilmah a successful company in terms of making money and of looking after his workers and other beneficiaries of his foundation/charity/NGO. I understand that he may be trying to compete with the fair trade brand, and that is why he isn’t signing up – but it’s the market that drives that sort of stuff and he can hardly be blamed for trying to stay ahead. Mind you, then you could also say that it is alright that the US veto certain Security Council resolutions.

What I would like to see is an annual report or some form of audit. And also to know more details about the conditions of the workers on the Dilmah tea plantations.

It’s so hard this ‘taking a stance’ stuff. I’m not sure I’m cut out for it!

But I do support Fair Trade generally. Yeah. That’s a stance.

7 thoughts on “Fair trade?

  1. Ohh tricky. His ads on TV certainly make it seem that he cares about his workers. I see his point – It’s like the whole organic argument – it all comes to down to paperwork and a label as an excuse to charge more.


  2. hmmm it’s hard to decide when you have that conflict of, i like this product, but it isn’t as ethical as i’d like, so should i stop buying it? i currently have the Russh issue in the back of my mind – yep they have (pretty gratuitously) half naked 16 year olds in it, but i still really love the magazine…


  3. you’ll always feel these conflicts about every product you buy. i’m so not into making other people rich. i’m all about exchange of goods and services, but i hate money. i completely agree that taking a stance is exhausting. someone will always know more about it than you do. you’ll just never know enough, but i think that as long as you try to continue learning what’s best for our world (and fewer carbon miles is definitely plus), then that’s all you can do. your heart and mind seem to be in the right place most of the time, and i always wish there were other people who cared as much as you do. i try, but i’m terrible at being organic and eco-friendly, and i loathe people that are doing this whole organic thing as a fad. i’ve got students who “go green” because it’s chic now. argh. should i just be happy that they’re “going green?”


  4. Interesting discussion, I'm a bit late to the party on this (4 years too late!) but came across it trying to find out more about Dilmah having visited a Dilmah estate on a holiday to Sri Lanka recently. It looked beautiful and the workers certainly seemed very well looked after but that was just one place. (beautiful country btw would highly recommend!)

    From what I've read so far the difference with Dilmah is that the aim of Merril Fernando the founder of Dilmah (Mr Dilmah!) set out from way back in the 1960's to cut out the middlemen and run a business that could channel the added value and profits usually squandered by foriegners, directly back as the grower and producer into their own communities. He certainly seems to have achieved that while admittedly making himself rather well off in the process! But fair enough, he apparently gives a quarter of his personal earnings into his charitable foundation too. I don't know, I guess I like the idea of supporting a company that has done what Fair Trade aims to do but does it without all the overheads of labelling and administration. Not many have been able to acheive that so Fair Trade certainly has an important role but it doesn't mean that by 'not' being fairtrade they aren't doing it better?

    Trouble is so many fakers out there just pop a pseudo 'badge' on their packaging to say they're ethical so who do we believe, I guess that's where Fairtrade gives us some level of certainty… at least for those of us who don't want to go and do their homework on brands. I believe Dilmah are totally legit but it's a shame others who greenwash and get caught make them look bad by association.

    I thought the comment about carbon miles was really interesting too, didn't know about Nerada but assume you can still buy it here in NZ? Looking at their site they are also importing tea from all over the world too, seems to be their staple black tea is grown in Australia which is kinda cool. I guess that gives me some comfort again in Dilmah knowing their tea is not being exported in bulk from india to whatever countries like Twinnings etc who then blend and pack it in UK or Germany or wherever else brands do their flavouring etc. Dilmah will be packing right there in Sri Lanka and sending direct to New Zealand. Wow this is all doing my head in… enough research for one day! 😉


  5. Hey Jim,
    Thanks for the comment. I just found this tea plantation in NZ: http://www.zealong.com/ but from their website it seems like they bring in Taiwanese tea growers… worthy for the perfect cup of tea, I'm sure, but it kinda negates the carbon miles thing. ha.
    I'm still drinking Dilmah and kinda proud of Mr Dilmah's “eff you” to the Fair Trade certifiers (although as you've mentioned, they're good in their own way but by no means perfect). Glad you've been there to check it out first hand too.
    Right. Time for a cup of tea!


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